By Kevin Miller, BDN staff writer
Bangor Daily News news story
The discovery of one of the federally protected wildcats in a trap in St. Croix Township prompts the emergency rule change.
Maine wildlife officials banned the use of most above-ground traps throughout northern Maine on Tuesday, significantly curtailing trapping in the region after two federally protected Canada lynx were killed in a span of weeks.
Effective immediately, trappers targeting other species can no longer use most lethal “body-gripper” type traps or non-lethal foothold traps that are set above ground within the wildlife management districts that cover most of the northern half of the state.
While not an outright ban, the new rules significantly restrict the types of trapping allowed in areas of the state inhabited by Canada lynx, reclusive wildcats that are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Trappers are permitted to set traps under water to target beaver or to use smaller, lethal traps that have “exclusion” devices to keep lynx out.
“We are taking immediate measures to drastically decrease the probability of having another lynx killed in a trap,” Jim Connolly, director of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Bureau of Resource Management, said in a prepared statement.
The emergency rule change comes roughly one month after the federal government issued Maine a permit – known as an “incidental take permit” – that allows trapping for other species to continue in areas of the state inhabited by lynx. State biologists estimate 750 to 1,000 lynx live in Maine.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit requires Maine to modify its regulations if two lynx are killed in legally set traps over the 15-year permit period and caps the number of lynx inadvertently caught but not killed at 192 during that time.
So far this season the state has already recorded at least 20 trapped lynx – more than any year since monitoring began in 1999 – and two deaths, the latter of which triggered the regulatory revisions one month after the permit was issued. In an interview last week, Connolly attributed the higher numbers of trapped lynx to a growing population of the cats.
The deaths, however, are renewing attention on Maine’s trapping regulations.
A trapper reported the first lynx death last month after finding it in one of his legally set traps in northern Aroostook County. A game warden conducting routine trap checks found the second lynx on Sunday in St. Croix Township. That trap also had been set in accordance with the department’s rules. Because both traps were legally set, neither trapper is likely to face repercussions.
One wildlife activist who has been sharply critical of Maine’s trapping regulations said the department’s actions merely put in place the policies for which his organization had been advocating all along.
“It’s a tragedy that these two lynx had to die for this ‘I told you so’ moment,” said Daryl DeJoy, executive director of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, which successfully sued the state over incidental lynx trappings.
“And there is a lot more that goes on in the woods of Maine than people hear about,” DeJoy added, suggesting that more lynx are trapped and potentially killed than are reported to DIFW.
Laury Zicari, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Maine field office in Orono, said the incident take permit clearly outlined the steps Maine would have to take if two lynx were killed over the 15-year period.
“We commend Maine’s swift action through these regulation changes to address this issue, demonstrating that the permit framework is working,” Zicari said.
A representative for the Maine Trapper’s Association said that trappers “understand and believe that these measures are currently needed and support these immediate protections for lynx.”
“We look forward to working with the department as they develop long-term regulations to protect lynx for the 2015 season and beyond,” Brian Cogill, president of the Maine Trappers Association, said in a statement.
Maine is home to the East Coast’s only sizable, breeding population of Canada lynx, a species that is rarely seen but has become a flash point in the state between trappers and animal rights groups. Weighing up to 30 pounds, lynx are similar in size to common bobcats but have large, padded feet that allow them to pursue snowshoe hares and other prey in the deep snows of northern Maine.
The rule changes announced Tuesday primarily affect trapping in Aroostook, northern Somerset, northern Piscataquis, northern Penobscot, northern Hancock and northern Washington counties.
Maine’s fur-bearer trapping season ends on Dec. 31. The state issues roughly 6,000 fur-bearer trapping licenses annually, although the number of individuals who are actively trapping within lynx habitat is believed to be much smaller.